Jumper: Lisa Pugh

Town: Ely, Minnesota

Quote: “Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth “You owe me”. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” – Hafiz

About Lisa: Hi. I’m Lisa. In April 2015, with two other women, I road my bicycle 850 miles across my home state, Minnesota. Behind our bikes, we took turns pulling a 17-foot canoe on a trailer. The canoe was filled with thousands of signatures from people we had met along the way. This was our moving petition against a dangerous mine being proposed near our home, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This place is more than where I live, it’s where I do my most soul-inspiring, passion work – I lead expeditions.

Since 2011, I’ve been leading expeditions from a week to 30 days in length. I work for Voyageur Outward Bound School in Ely, MN. This is more than an expedition school, however, we are a school of character. By taking students of all ages and backgrounds on canoe and dog-sled expeditions, I help them discover themselves outside of their comfort zones. Through this experience they see different sides of themselves, of the untouched environment, and of the people they are with. We focus on grit, compassion, integrity and inclusion while we tackle blizzards or hordes of mosquitos and group conflict or the inner critic that can say the worst things. Supporting others through challenge has taught me a lot about myself too.

In the middle of that 850-mile bicycle tour, one of my best friends, Alyce Kuenzli, asked me if I wanted to do a REALLY big expedition with her:

Become the first women to canoe the fourth longest river system in the world – the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.

It would be a 4,000-mile journey that would take about 200 days to complete. We would start at the ultimate source in the mountains of Montana and end in the Gulf of Mexico. Tired from the cycling expedition I was currently on; my initial reaction was…”nah”. After about a week, I realized that there was no way I could turn down the opportunity.

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Together, Alyce and I planned the expedition and decided to do it for a reason bigger than our appetite for adventure. We called our mission Source of Confidence: a source-to-sea expedition supporting girls and women in navigating their own paths to confidence. Through the expedition, we would role model positive risk taking and the confidence-building process. We would document our successes and failures to show other women one way to approach the ups and downs of following your dreams. We also invited another friend, Viki Carpenter, in on the adventure to help us make a documentary. She followed us by car for parts of the expedition, helped us resupply, and filmed pieces of the journey.

On May 11, 2016, we set out on foot to hike to Brower’s Spring, the little spring (covered in snow) that we would follow every mile of all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. It took us exactly 200 harrowing days to finally hit the salty water of the Louisiana coast on November 27, 2016 and become the first women in herstory to travel this route by foot, pack-raft, and canoe. Only one woman, Janet Moreland, had done it already in a kayak. It was the hardest and most incredible thing I have ever done.

We battled wind, frightening storms, fights with each other, the heat of the summer through the Great Plains of the Dakotas, and, at times, a lot of doubt. We also saw the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets, met the most inspiring and generous people, and witnessed the beauty of growing both personally and as friends. And we learned a lot about confidence. Most importantly, that it is something you must work to build. Every decision you make can help you build confidence, even if the decision led to a mistake or a negative outcome. It’s just learning. It doesn’t mean give up, it means try again, maybe a different way next time.

I grew up in a suburb of the Twin Cities as a very athletic, outdoorsy, and achievement-focused kid. I was outwardly very confident, but inside, especially once I hit middle school, I had very low self-worth. Inside, I knew I could do anything I put my mind to but I didn’t see a lot of girls or women doing the things that really inspired me. I was influenced very negatively by the images I saw of women on TV and in magazines and, looking back, I wasted far too much time trying to fit into the mold of being a thin, perfect young woman. I was far too concerned with image but pretended that I wasn’t. I played the tough girl, but was quite hurt inside.

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Thankfully, my passion for moving my body and competing in sports as well as my love for the outdoors kept me true to my real self. I spent a lot of time dirty and wild as a kid, and while that was confined to the rules of the softball diamond or the race course (I was a rower at the University of Minnesota from 2005-2009), it kept my spirit alive. These things helped me build confidence in my ability to use my body and mind to accomplish great things.

My passion is to continue to support other girls and women in build confidence and pursuing their dreams – whatever they may be!

Check out sourceofconfidence.com to learn more about my 200-day journey and stay tuned for the documentary!